Tired of looking out your windows at the same neighborhood all the time? WindowSwap is a site that allows you to look out other random peoples' windows around the world. Some are still images; some are videos. The first few I clicked on were in Bangkok, Paris, Santiago, Singapore, London, and Dundee (Scotland). You can also submit a photo looking out one of your windows to add to the collection. www.window-swap.com/
Geopolitical tensions and pandemic-related lockdowns have raised concerns about China-centric supply chains, including supply chains for pharmaceuticals. This geo-graphic, from data compiled by Goldman Sachs in The Wall Street Journal, illustrates that China is far and away the world's leading exporter of active pharmaceutical ingredients. India, for example, may supply more than 40% of the generic drugs sold in the U.S., but India, in turn, relies on China for the active ingredients.
Worldwide economic contraction and high levels of unemployment mean that remittances from workers abroad are expected to fall sharply this year, putting another significant dent in the economies of less affluent countries.
"Tens of millions of Indians, Filipinos, Mexicans and others from developing countries working overseas sent a record $554 billion back to their home countries last year. That’s an amount greater than all foreign direct investment in low- and middle-income countries and more than three times the development aid from foreign governments, according to the World Bank. The drop-off in the payments, known as remittances, has affected life for millions around the globe who rely on the cash for food, fuel and medical care. Families from South Asia to Latin America can’t afford mortgage payments and tuition. 'There are households that critically depend on the remittance lifeline, and that lifeline has been ruptured,' said Dilip Ratha, lead economist on remittances at the World Bank, which estimates that the transfers to developing countries will decline by 20% this year. That drop would be four times as big as the fall that followed the 2008 financial crisis and the largest drop since the World Bank began recording remittance data in the 1980s." www.wsj.com/articles/developing-world-migrant-workers-remittances-coronavirus-pandemic-lockdown-reopen-11593969595
Himalayan glaciers are losing their ice mass, but resourceful people who depend on those glaciers for irrigation are creating their own glaciers: "Discussions about climate change tend to focus on low-lying areas, like coastal cities. Yet people who live at higher elevations also feel its negative effects — including fresh water shortages. To help these folks get by, a Ladakhi inventor named Sonam Wangchuk has created a line of artificial glaciers. Called 'ice stupas,' they're storing frozen water so it can be used to hydrate crops in the driest stretch of the year. ... As a 'cold desert,' the Ladakh area sees very little rainfall, receiving an average of just 2 to 3 inches (50 to 70 millimeters) per year. ... Demand for meltwater grows exponentially in April and May, when the life-sustaining crops of wheat, buckwheat and barley need to be sown and hydrated. But in the springtime, before the glacial water arrives in force, the streams often run dry. ... Wangchuk devised an irrigation system that's brilliant in its simplicity. The major component is a long pipeline. Most of this is buried deep underground, with one end tapping into a glacial stream or naturally occurring reservoir high in the mountains. Through the tube, the water rushes in the direction of populated areas at lower altitudes. No moving parts or electrical gizmos are needed to keep the liquid H2O flowing; gravity does the trick. It also pushes the water into the final stage of its journey. Downhill, the pipeline connects at a sharp angle to another, narrower pipe that rises out of the soil, standing vertically like a telephone pole. ... Gravity naturally propels the liquid straight up until it flies out of a sprinkler on the pipe's raised tip. High in the air, the spray encounters atmospheric temperatures in the ballpark of -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) or lower. Before landing, it freezes solid, forming a large cone of ice around the vertical pipe. The cone's distinctive shape resembles that of a stupa, traditional Buddhist prayer monuments that've graced Ladakh for thousands of years. Hence, Wangchuk and his associates have taken to calling the new glacier-like structures 'ice stupas.'"
Between February and May, the number of American households receiving food stamps grew by 17%, the fastest increase in the program's history. This topological map from the New York Times shows changes by state. (Data not available from states shown in gray.) From www.nytimes.com/2020/07/19/us/politics/coronavirus-food-stamps.html
The late Harvard University moral and political philosopher John Rawls is most famously associated with the idea that to be just, society's rules should be created as if those making them are behind a "veil of ignorance." According to Rawls, "Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. ... This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances. Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to design principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result of a fair agreement or bargain." (from A Theory of Justice) In practice, though, we have very few opportunities to develop policy behind a veil of ignorance. But what if we did? How well might it work?
Perhaps not very well -- not because there's necessarily anything wrong with the idea, but because our willingness to abide by the principles developed behind the veil of ignorance may be quick to break down once we understand our true positions.
This spring we had a rare opportunity to put Rawls's theory to the test. When the coronavirus pandemic began, compliance with measures designed to protect public health, including closures and stay-at-home orders, was high in the U.S. This is borne out by considerable data showing how quickly and widely people began limiting their non-essential travel in April. In other words, when we all believed ourselves to be equally vulnerable to harm -- as if behind a veil of ignorance -- we supported protective measures even though those protective measures were restrictive. Over time, though, as more data became available that hinted at our personal vulnerability (e.g., young vs. old, affluent vs. poor, urban vs. rural, white vs. African American or Hispanic, healthy vs. having underlying health conditions, able to work remotely vs. not), support for protective measures unraveled. Just a few short months later, those who no longer see themselves at risk are not willing to abide by the original contract.
This is actually one of the findings I have observed repeatedly when playing a game to demonstrate the veil of ignorance with my "Philosophically Speaking" students: the temptation to change the rules once one's position is known is nearly irresistible because for many, justice -- defined as adhering to the rules we came up with together and agreed to at the outset -- takes a backseat to "winning."
This map, based on data compiled by MIT Technology Review, shows which countries have deployed contact-tracing apps in the fight against COVID-19. "The extent to which the apps collect user data varies considerably by country with China's system harvesting everything from citizens' identity, location and online payment history to Germany's Corona-Warn App which complies with Berlin's strict laws on privacy." www.statista.com/chart/22335/development-of-tracing-apps-by-country
Have you ever wondered how kiwi fruits are grown? (Hint: more like grapes than lemons.) This video takes you on a virtual farm tour of a kiwi-growing operation.
Flooding in India's northeastern state of Assam has displaced more than 4 million people, and the waters continue to rise. Heavy monsoon rainfall has swollen the Brahmaputra River, which flows east across Tibet before entering northeastern India and running southwest towards Bangladesh. Much of Assam, best known for its tea plantations, is low-lying plains, which makes it prone to flooding, particularly in the stretch of the Brahmaputra highlighted on this map: cdn.britannica.com/77/176777-050-B8AD7B43/Brahmaputra-River.jpg
Talks have broken down, again, between Ethiopia and Egypt over Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam project. The Blue Nile, which begins in Ethiopia, contributes 80% of the Nile River's water. For Egypt, the waters of the Nile are essential for the economic and literal life of the country. For Ethiopia, the Grand Renaissance Dam and the electricity it will generate are a matter of national pride and economic progress. This article from Al Monitor does a good job laying out the geopolitical issues: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/egypt-ethiopia-nile-dam-dispute-diplomacy-africa-union-trump.html#ixzz6ShPs0mSZ
Openness to new people and ideas (or not) has played an important role in the economic rise and fall of geographic regions, be they countries, empires, or subsets thereof. This article from MIT Technology Review looks at the "nice person's" Silicon Valley and Canada's bid to attract talented immigrants who perhaps otherwise would have been headed to the U.S. www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/17/1003314/toronto-would-like-to-be-seen-as-the-nice-persons-silicon-valley-if-thats-not-too-much-trouble
The federal government is the biggest land owner in the U.S. This map, from EcoWest and based on data from the U.S. General Services Administration, shows the percentage of each state's land (approximated by the blue state-within-a state) that is owned by the federal government, including national parks, national forests, military bases, and Bureau of Land Management lands: ecowest.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Slide12-600x450.png
I've previously shared perspectives on some of the ethical issues surrounding distribution of any COVID-19 vaccine. Today's article, from Science News, instead looks at one of the ethical issues surrounding the development of a vaccine: which cell line does one choose to work with?
"Cell lines are cultures of human or other animal cells that can be grown for long periods of time in the lab. Some of these cultures are known as immortalized cell lines because the cells never stop dividing. Most cells can’t perform this trick — they eventually stop splitting and die. Immortal cell lines have cheated death. Some are more than 50 years old. Cell lines can be manipulated to become immortal. Or sometimes, immortality arises by chance. ... Immortalized cell lines are crucial for many different types of biomedical research, not just vaccines. They’ve been used to study diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s and much more. Some are human cells, but many also come from animal models. For example, many COVID-19 studies — beyond just those related to vaccines — are using Vero cells, a cell line derived from the kidney of an African green monkey.... Two common immortalized cell lines go by the monikers HEK-293 and HeLa. HEK-293 is a cell line isolated from a human embryo that was electively aborted in the Netherlands in 1973. Catholic leaders and other antiabortion groups have objected to the use of HEK-293 in the development of some COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Cells derived from elective abortions, including HEK-293, have been used to develop vaccines, including rubella, hepatitis A, chickenpox and more. Other fetal cell lines, such as the proprietary cell line PER.C6, are also used in vaccine development, including for COVID-19. HeLa cells are named after Henrietta Lacks, a Black tobacco farmer and mother of five from Virginia who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. That cell line comes from a sample taken from her cervix by researchers at Johns Hopkins University when she was undergoing treatment there. ...
"More than 125 candidate vaccines against COVID-19 are under development around the world. ... Those vaccines can be divided into a few different types. Some, such as RNA vaccines ... do not require a live cell, and thus, no cell line. But other types do require live cells during their production. That includes candidates that use the old-school method for developing vaccines: attenuation. ... In another type of vaccine under development called viral-vector, the viral genes to produce immunity to the coronavirus are placed in another, harmless virus. That new combined virus is then grown in cells. HEK-293 cells, for example, are especially useful for vaccine work, [Columbia University virologist Angela] Rasmussen explains. It’s easy to put new viral genes in them, she says, and once they have the genes inside, HEK-293 cells can pump out large amounts of viral protein — exactly what’s needed to help people develop an immune response. HeLa are also relatively easy to work with. They can be used to analyze how the coronavirus enters cells to hijack their machinery, for example. ...
"No matter what cell line is used, ethical questions will need to be answered. Cell lines derived from animals have all the ethical complications associated with animal research. But in the case of fetal cells, some anti-abortion groups are opposed to using anything that involves fetal cell lines anywhere in its development. ... Catholics got permission in 2005 and 2017 from the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life to get vaccines that use historical fetal cell lines, if no alternatives are available. 'The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concerns about the origins of the vaccine,' [University of Massachusetts bioethicist Nicholas] Evans explains. Of course, many people who are anti-abortion are not Catholic, and not all Catholics agree. In the case of HeLa cells, the ethical problems began the day the cells were taken from Lacks, who was never told that her cells might be used for experimentation. 'There was no informed consent. She wasn’t aware, and her family wasn’t aware,' says Yolonda Wilson, a bioethicist at Howard University in Washington, D.C. ... 'It’s not this one-off … it’s a larger narrative of disrespecting Black patients, using Black people and Black bodies in experiments.' ...
"There’s no avoiding immortal cell lines. 'Certainly I would expect they would be involved in some of the work, directly or not' in any vaccine that comes out, Rasmussen says. Even though HeLa cells or HEK-293 cells might not be used in the production of a particular COVID-19 vaccine, they are being used as scientists work to understand the virus. Some knowledge gained from those cell lines will go into a vaccine, at the very least."
High above the Arctic Circle, on the summer solstice, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk reported a high temperature of more than 100°F. If verified, this would be the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic. Although late June is the height of the Arctic summer, Siberia has been usually warm since January. This map, based on NASA satellite data, shows how much land surface temperature in northern latitudes has differed from the 15-year average throughout the entire spring: eoimages.gsfc.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/146000/146879/arctic_amo_2020172.png (It is useful to keep in mind that 2003-18 temperatures were already higher than the historic norm.)
Learn something about Kenyan wildlife and help out with a citizen science project at the same time! Researchers are trying to track the transmission of parasites on the savanna and need help identifying the wildlife and behaviors captured on camera at various watering holes. (I admit, I find this somewhat addictive.) www.zooniverse.org/projects/gtitcomb/parasite-safari
The economic and political fallout of the coronavirus pandemic threatens to destabilize many countries. This map from Foreign Policy looks at the likelihood of large-scale internal violence, including civil war, developing around the world over the next two years. It is useful to remember that "certainty" is a probability of 1, meaning that an increase of 0.25, shown in red, or even 0.10 (or more), shown in yellow, is not trivial. (The countries shown in gray are already experiencing internal armed conflict.)
It is not only individuals whose finances have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. Many countries have also seen revenue shrivel and expenses soar. China is the world's largest state lender, believed to have extended loans and credits worth $1.5 trillion, more than 5% of global GDP. That makes China the world's largest creditor, surpassing the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the combined lending of all OECD governments. What is China going to do when poorer countries, including those that borrowed Chinese money to finance Belt and Road Initiative projects, cannot repay those loans? This article explains why debt forgiveness is not likely and notes that an estimated 30% of Chinese loans since 2000 have been collateralized with natural resources, including oil, minerals, and agricultural commodities. www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/06/30/how-will-china-respond-when-low-income-countries-cant-pay-their-debts/
Coral bleaching occurs when unusually warm water temperatures lead to coral polyps' eviction of their symbiotic algae. But some of the world's most spectacular coral reefs are located in the hot, saline waters of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Scientists based in the UAE are studying local reef ecology to try to understand how corals and other fauna can withstand the extreme conditions. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/06/united-arab-emirates-coral-reef-fauna-climate-change.html
In early April, during NYC's worst coronavirus period, the equivalent of 1 in 114 New Yorkers was diagnosed with COVID-19. Although the testing landscape has changed since then, 536 U.S. counties -- shown in purple and red on this map -- now have case density rates higher than NYC's in early April. For those shown in red, their worst two-week average has come this summer. (from www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/07/how-new-coronavirus-surges-compare-new-york-city-peak-cvd/)
What is "meat"? Why does it matter? In 2019, U.S. sales of plant-based meat grew 18% year over year, to nearly $1 billion. Meat grown from animal stem cells in vitro is also coming down in price. But in the past three years, 25 state legislatures have introduced bills to prohibit alternative meat products from being labeled meat. This piece by a philosopher at the University of California, San Diego argues that at least some faux meat is truly "meat."
"The traditional view of meat holds that it must originate in the body of an animal. The substance of meat is what it is physically made of: muscle tissue composed of protein, water, amino acids and the rest. Meat’s function is on one level something that we experience — the familiar combination of taste and texture in the mouth. ... In vitro meat generally satisfies the last two requirements — substance and function — but not the first, origin. ... It may seem like cheating to consciously redefine meat in order to accommodate the lab-grown version. In fact, history is full of this type of conceptual revision. Someone asking 100 years ago what a car is could be forgiven for offering a definition that mentioned an internal combustion engine or a human driver. In the age of self-driving and electric cars we recognize that these are no longer defining features of cars. ... In the jargon of philosophers, we realized that we had long been mistaking one particular conception of cars ... for the very concept. Revising our understanding of meat to make room for in vitro meat involves a similar move. We should strip down our understanding of meat so that an element previously deemed essential — in this case, being sourced in an animal carcass — is no longer strictly necessary. On this updated, more minimalist understanding, all that is necessary for something to qualify as meat is that it has a meaty substance and function. Just as Model Ts and Teslas both qualify as cars, animal-sourced and lab-grown versions would then both qualify as real meat. ... Imagine you are served two pieces of steak, one from a slaughterhouse the other from a lab, which have an identical taste and nutritional effect. Food is by definition what we eat, and if our experience of eating the two morsels is the same surely they warrant a common concept."
In a ruling that surprised many earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Oklahoma statehood in 1907 did not abrogate the U.S. government's treaty from the 1830s with the Muscogee (Creek) Indians that promised the tribe a chunk of eastern Oklahoma, including land that today includes parts of Tulsa, Oklahoma's second-largest city. The ruling also provides precedent for land allotted to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes, which collectively, as this map from The Wall Street Journal shows, may be entitled to more than half of Oklahoma. (from www.wsj.com/articles/american-indian-lands-include-eastern-oklahoma-supreme-court-rules-11594304003)
July is National Ice Cream Month. This piece from National Geographic features 8 unusual ice creams from around the world, from cicada to pizza flavored to a glow-in-the-dark concoction. kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/awesome-8-hub/weird-ice-cream
Myanmar, the site of a fatal jade mine landslide last week, produces an estimated 70% of the world's high-end jade. "Jade" actually refers to both jadeite and the less intensely colored mineral nephrite. Both jadeite and nephrite tend to be found near current or ancient tectonic plate subduction zones. This map shows the world's known jadeite and nephrite deposits: assets.answersingenesis.org/img/articles/am/v11/n4/gems-circle-of-fire.gif
Trying to enrich your understanding of cybersecurity, what it means and what it looks like? The Wall Street Journal has assembled a list of books recommended by cybersecurity experts but accessible to the general public: Countdown to Zero Day (Kim Zetter), The Cuckoo's Egg (Clifford Stoll), The Fifth Domain (Richard Clarke and Robert Knake), Cult of the Dead Cow (Joseph Menn), and Sandworm (Andy Greenberg). www.wsj.com/articles/five-cybersecurity-books-that-everyone-shouldand-canread-11592579360
Forests are on the move across North America. Scientists are keeping a special eye on Minnesota, where coniferous boreal forests (taiga) dominate the northern part of the state, with deciduous forests in the middle of the state, and prairie in the south. Changes in climate are pushing out the boreal forest -- Minnesota's famous North Woods -- with the deciduous forest and the prairie both expanding north.
"[Lee Frelich, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Forest Ecology] thinks the boreal forests that soak up huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could disappear entirely, taking with them a third of the state's native species of trees, flowers, birds and pollinators. In an extreme scenario, he has warned, prairie land could expand across much of Minnesota by 2100, upending everything from the timber industry to tourism to the state’s very identity. 'Minnesota could become the new Kansas,' he said. 'We have a perfectly good Kansas now. We don't need a second one in Minnesota.' ... A Washington Post analysis of historical temperature data found that seven counties in Minnesota [including the county that contains the headwaters of the Mississippi River] have warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century — about twice the global average. Winters here have warmed even faster, with 59 of the state's counties — about two thirds — eclipsing the 2C threshold during the months of December through February. ... That fast change contributes to some 'zombie' forests in parts of the state, said his colleague Stephen Handler, a Forest Service climate change specialist. 'There are places where climate change is already influencing forest regeneration,' Handler said. 'Big, healthy trees overhead — but on the forest floor, no baby trees to fill in the gap.'"
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